Types of Editing and When to Use Them

So you’ve written a novel. That’s awesome. Yay you. Seriously. Pat yourself on the back. But what do you do now? Now, you edit. But how? And with whom?

I’ve been a professional editor for more than fifteen years. Wow. That makes me feel old. The fact that I turn…a nice round number in a few weeks is not something to dwell on. Let’s move on. Today I want to talk about the types of editors and editing and when you should hire each one.

There are three main types of editors: developmental editors, content editors, and copy editors.

Let’s tackle them in reverse order.

Copy Editors

Copy editors read through your novel and make changes based on grammar and punctuation. A copy editor makes sure that your dialog tags are all formatted properly.

“I told you I was done.” He said. becomes “I told you I was done,” he said.

Copy editors will also find those pesky errors like using the word stripped when you mean striped or mote when you really meant more. This is the bare bones editing that you should have done. Everyone makes stupid errors when they’re writing. No matter how careful you are, a handful will slip through. You need a copy editor who isn’t involved with your story to help fix these issues.

Content Editors

Content editors do more than simply grammar. A content editor will also help you with phrasing. Let’s look at a little paragraph I like to use as an example.

The crack of the bat snapped against his back. His ribs cracked, splintered, and pain shot through his back. He fell back against the wall, breathing heavily. Pushing himself back up, he ran.

That’s not a terrible paragraph, but it’s not great either. Why? Because you’ve got four instances of the word back in four sentences and two instances of the word crack. A content editor would suggest you change it. Some content editors (me included) would even provide you with a suggestion as to how to change it. I’d personally leave you a comment and suggest something like the following.

The crack of the bat echoed in the empty warehouse. His ribs splintered and pain shot like a spider web across his side. He stumbled, fell against the wall, and fought to catch his breath. With a grunt, he pushed himself up and ran.

That’s a much better paragraph.

Developmental Editors

Developmental editors are the Holy Grail of editors. If you can afford it, this is what you want. Why? Because they’ll take things one step further. They’ll not only (often) do copy editing and content editing, but they’ll also provide you detailed feedback on plot holes, pacing, and organization. A developmental editor will tell you that one of your characters is flat and uninteresting. She (or he) will tell you that Chapter Three should actually come after Chapter Four. Often times a developmental editor will do more than one pass on your book because they’ll ask for changes. Sometimes the changes are minor, but other times they’re more major. A developmental editor will also make sure that your romance should be branded a romance and not a fantasy with romantic elements or a mystery with paranormal elements.

How do you pick?

So if you can afford it, I highly recommend you find someone (like me), who does all three types of editing. This way you’ll get detailed plot notes, content editing, and copy editing. When I edit, I provide notes on plot within the file itself. I also edit for grammar, punctuation, and word choice/phrasing. Unfortunately for authors, a quality developmental editor isn’t cheap. But if you can find an editor who does all three, you’ll be miles ahead in the game.

How do you find an editor?

Editors are a dime a dozen these days. In the age of the Internet, anyone (and I do mean anyone) can hang a shingle on a domain and call themselves an editor. You should always vet your editor. See if they’ll edit a sample for you. I always offer to edit up to 2,000 words for my potential clients. Not only do you want an editor who knows their stuff, you want to make sure that you and your editor can work together. The editor/author relationship is a special one. You’re trusting someone with your literary baby. Make sure that you and your editor click.

I hope you’ve found this primer on editors helpful. Now go forth and edit!


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